The Songwriters – The last verse

Well, it’s got to end somewhere, so this is it.

When I started this series, the aim of which was to celebrate writers whose material was suitable for others as well as themselves, it was not my intention to concentrate on the 1960s (it started, after all, with Sandy Linzer, whose best known work was with Odyssey in the late 70s), but as the names came and I wrote them up, that’s just the way it went. Whatever it was about that decade that made songwriters so important, they just were.

There are, no doubt, deserving cases who I’ve missed (in the 60s Mob, Guy Fletcher and Doug Flett, for instance), but if I could go to a desert island with the songs of the writers in this series available to me, I would be a happy man. By all means let me know the people you would have included, remembering the criteria, as explained months ago in the second post of the series:

“When someone told Ian Dury he had written some great songs, his reaction was that he didn’t agree. To him, a great song was something that could be successful when other people sang it, and his material was very reliant on his voice and persona for its effect. This series is dedicated to writers who do or did that, whether or not they had hits in their own right.”

Admittedly the Sixties is the era I know most about, and although there is plenty of variety in my music collection, a quick analysis of my iTunes will show that that’s what I keep coming back to.

For me, discovering new music doesn’t necessarily mean finding people who have only started working recently. As great as it is to hear something brand new that is as good as anything, ever, I also find a thrill in stumbling across something for the first time that has been around since I was a boy but has somehow escaped me until now.

One of the first songs I downloaded when the iTunes era began was Our Day Will Come, a teen longing number with cheesy organ backing, by Ruby and the Romantics, and included here just because I like it. It was written by the little-known Mort Garson and lyricist Bob Hilliard, whose other credits include the words for Tower of Strength and Seven Little Girls (sitting in the back seat). Our Day Will Come may well have brushed past me in 1963 but only hit me in the face around 40 years later, just before Amy Winehouse brought it to the attention of a new generation. Similarly, Patti and the Emblems’ Mixed Up Shook Up Girl from 1964 was an exciting surprise when it finally found me in 2012, particularly as I had known a completely different song of the same title by Mink de Ville in 1978.

Anyway, what with half a dozen Motown writers, plus Bacharach and David, Lennon and McCartney and all the rest, the early years of the second half of the 20th century emerged as the key era of the pop song, and as much as the following decades might have been full of songs written by people for other people, it was difficult to find deserving candidates after about 1980.

Even such thrusting British contenders as Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, whose names were all over the British charts in the late 80s and early 90s, don’t really fall into this category, because their success was due as much to their magic touch with production as to the tunes and the lyrics.

Body Talk and Music and Lights by Imagination kept chart music alive for me when many of my friends wouldn’t be seen dead buying a single, and even Bananarama were given a certain credibility by Jolley and Swain’s Cruel Summer and Robert de Niro’s Waiting – but again, take away the production and give the songs to somebody else and they don’t cry out for new treatments. Even Michael Buble (who, to borrow a saying from a different area, would shag anything) wouldn’t be interested.

It was the same thing for Stock Aitken and Waterman, who churned out some great stuff. You might not like I Should Be So Lucky, but who can dismiss You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)? But the songs on their own, naked and unadorned? Not so much.

As for the songs featured in this post, there’s one by Paul Simon, whose songs have been covered by plenty of people, but not necessarily done as well as he and Art Garfunkel did them.

I looked for a great version of a Don McLean song and found one by Joanna Wang, a new name to me.

As different versions go, there is nothing quite so subtle or amusing as Vic Reeves’s treatment of Born Free. Written by John Barry and lyricist Don Black, it was an early 60s hit for Matt Monro, and Reeves’s version shows, I think, that he loves the song. But he’s a comedian, so he does this thing with it, in an affectionate way. And there’s a nice little sample from Strawberry Letter 23 by the Brothers Johnson thrown in – that  plink plonky keyboard riff that keeps cropping up.

And finally – a little self-indulgent, I admit –  a song from the relatively small but precious box of jewels that is the work of one of my obscure favourites, Pete Dello. He wrote and sang I Can’t Let Maggie Go, a hit for his band Honeybus in 1968, and they also did the original version of Do I Still Figure In Your Life, one of the pillars of Joe Cocker’s debut album, which also included covers of  With A Little Help From My Friends by the Beatles and two by Bob Dylan. That’s pretty exalted company. You may also remember I’m A Gambler by Lace (1969) – that was him. He’s a music teacher now, apparently.

And even more finally, here is a song written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway with bassist Herbie Flowers (whose name comes first on the record label, so maybe the basic idea was his) that should have appeared in The 60s English Mob a couple of posts ago. As fine a love song as was ever written, featuring top British session musicians and vocals by Madeline Bell, a sublime singer who did a lot of session work but never quite cracked it as a solo act. Last I heard she was living in Spain and singing jazz.

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The Songwriters – Diane Warren

The 1990s. An eerie, all-pervading shadow descends on the earth. The synthesisers and sequencers and samplers have taken over. Technical advances allow bad singers to have their false notes corrected by computers. Producers and entrepreneurs are the new superstars. Songwriters are banished into the past, where their old-fashioned skills are still valued, but they are now an underground movement.

Talent is revealed as an abstract notion, a gift conferred on the naive but grasping, the desperately ambitious, by the new elite; the Technocrats. Panels of TV “experts” guide a gullible public in what should be considered good.

A bleak, barren, shiny, antiseptic world masquerades as the entertainment industry. And at the same time, oddly, technology allows small-time individuals to create and make available their own little creations.

And then, out of the deafening darkness of high-tech production, there emerges a latter-day Aladdin’s Lamp of song who has been there all along: Diane Warren.

She’s a strange woman, by all accounts. Writers of pop songs inevitably plough the fields of love and romance, but Warren’s life appears to have been notably short of those things. Even her mother has been quoted as saying she should stop writing for a while and get out more.

Let’s start with Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion. The French-Canadian beanpole has a tremendously strong voice, but it’s nothing without killer material, and Warren specializes in that. Everybody goes to her when they need a hit. Even reformed rock bad boys Aerosmith, who no longer needed the money to buy cocaine and booze because they had given it up. They took I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing into the dainty but lucrative environs of the pop charts.

The man with the huge voice and matching hair (apart from a drastically receding front half), Michael Bolton, was furnished by Warren with How Can We Be Lovers (If We Can’t Be Friends). Incidentally, on a personal note I am very grateful for the intro, in which he sings the title, tipping me off so I have time to hit the off button before the song really gets going.

Cher has always provided work for writers, and contributed to Warren’s bulging retirement plan with If I Could Turn Back Time.

A relatively early hit for Warren was Rhythm Of The Night, a cheerful latiny hit for DeBarge in the days when Gloria Estefan ruled.

If I haven’t said anything complimentary about Warren’s songs so far it’s because by and large I find them efficient rather than affecting. But they can’t all be like that, and sure enough there’s Toni Braxton’s Unbreak My Heart, which can take on a suitably noble, sob-worthy aspect after a few Merlots.

Even better is country gal Leann Rimes with How Do I Live, which brandishes some real emotion amid the clever chord changes.

So, we may not be able to think of any straight off, but there are hundreds of this woman’s songs in existence. Johnny Mathis, Tony Hadley, Jody Watley, Jimmy Barnes, Gary Barlow, Chicago, MeatLoaf, Deniece Williams, Joan Jett…  The bountiful catalogue of Diane Warren is all around us.

 

 

The Songwriters – The 60s English mob

 

We stray now into territory that is not cool, except to those who simply like the songs and don’t acknowledge the difference between natural sugar and artificial sweeteners.

The pop charts of the 60s – in the UK, at least – required liberal supplies of songs that are sometimes referred to as “disposable”. The writers were never going to be given much credit by the cognoscenti, but they would sell millions of singles and make sums of money that “serious” artistes could only dream of as they drove their Ford Transits up and down the country in search of a place in history.

I’m talking here about people like Roger Cook & Roger Greenaway, Tony Macaulay, Geoff Stephens, Les Reed & Barry Mason –people with a big house in the country but who, when you deliver a pizza to them and they tell you they made their pile as songwriters, are hurt but not surprised when you say you’ve never heard of them.

Take Cook and Greenaway: You’ve Got Your Troubles by The Fortunes, I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman by Whistling Jack Smith, Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Gene Pitney), Melting Pot (Blue Mink) and I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (New Seekers) are just five of dozens of songs that blared through transistor radios and put singers’ faces on bedroom walls while everyone was officially  worshiping The Beatles and The Stones.

Macaulay gave us Baby Make It Soon (Marmalade), Build Me Up Buttercup (The Foundations), Don’t Give Up On Us and Silver Lady (David Soul), Lights Of Cincinatti (co-written with Stephens, sung by Scott Walker) and Sorry Suzanne (The Hollies).

Geoff Stephens created  The Crying Game (Dave Berry, Boy George and a film), Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast (Elvis Presley), There’s A Kind Of Hush (Herman’s Hermits, The Carpenters), Winchester Cathedral (The New Vaudeville Band) and You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me (with Macaulay, sung by The New Seekers)

Reed and Mason came up with Delilah (Tom Jones, Alex Harvey Band), Here It Comes Again (The Fortunes), Les Bicyclettes De Belsize (Engelbert Humperdinck), Supergirl (Graham Bonney) and Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes (Edison Lighthouse).

Masterpieces? Compared with Yesterday or Ruby Tuesday, perhaps not. But Winchester Cathedral demonstrated considerable imagination and the courage to attempt a chart hit from a very different direction, while Melting Pot was pretty cool, with a bit of social commentary (and Cook was a member of Blue Mink). Delilah is a great one for any clown with a guitar to bash out at a party (I’ve done it myself, hungover one Boxing Day in Venezuela – they all knew it and loved it).  I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing was enormously successful in the advertising world in its guise as I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke.

It doesn’t require too much of a stretch of the imagination to see any of these as footnotes in the Paul McCartney songbook.

Some of these guys have a further claim to fame: Cook had a lot of success as a writer and singer on the US country scene and Macaulay made his mark in American musical theatre, for instance.

I thought long and hard before lumping them all into one post and a slightly different category from those more commonly regarded as greats, but no disrespect: I wouldn’t mind having their track record  – and a fraction of their royalties.

The Songwriters – Bert Berns

“Live fast, die young” is the sort of motto that appeals to young people, but the image it conjures up is of hedonism: drink, drugs, sex and rebellion. In the case of Bert Berns, the fact that he crammed a lot of songs into his short life (he died at 38) may have had something to do with his knowing he didn’t have long in the first place.

People who contract rheumatic fever as a child know their heart has been weakened and that it is likely to give out relatively young, and such was the case with Bertrand Russell Berns, author of immortal pop/rock songs like Twist and Shout and Hang on Sloopy.

Those two songs alone make Berns the king of the three-chord trick, the holy grail of the aspiring guitarist. You’re aged 12, say, and you’ve just persuaded your parents to buy you a guitar. It’s a terrible thing with a heavy action and a tone devoid of any beauty, and it doesn’t stay in tune. But it’s a guitar and you are now a guitarist. All you need is a song you can knock off in five minutes, because the fancy stuff can wait – you just want to be able to bash something out and show the world you’ve got the gift.

Without wishing to get any 11-year-olds too excited, you should be able to master three simple chords quite quickly. By the time your fingertips have hardened enough to hold the strings down for three minutes you should be able to go – slowly and clumsily – from D to G to A, and if you can, that’s Twist And Shout in the bag.

Learn how to play the chord of C and you’ve got Hang On Sloopy, which is G, C and D. And Bob’s your uncle: you’re a star in the making.

For the rest of the world, those are just great little songs. The Isley Brothers had a hit with Twist and Shout before the Beatles took it on. John Lennon recorded the lead vocal at the end of a long day in the studio, his voice tired and ragged, and had to be cajoled to go through with it when he would have preferred to leave it for another day when he would be more in control. He didn’t like the result – strained, imprecise and as rough as a bear’s armpit – but for us, the consumers, it’s kind of thrilling. And the song itself is just one of those rabble-rousing things that gets people dancing and singing almost in spite of themselves.

Its durability can be seen by its success in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where Matthew Broderick as the charismatic Ferris gatecrashes a carnival float and mimes the entire song. That’s a song more than 20 years old, sounding as fresh as yesterday.

Sloopy was recorded by The McCoys and easily makes it into my top ten raucous, good-time songs.

And then from Berns’s pen came Here Comes The Night, a hit for a young Belfast band, Them, featuring Van Morrison before he  became  a “serious artiste”. The chords have upped the ante a little, but any young guitarist worth his salt and with six months’ experience should be able to negotiate it. Speaking of guitars, Jimmy Page played on the track, even though Them had their own guitarist in Billy Harrison.

It’s another irresistibly singable song and has been covered many times, including early versions by Lulu and David Bowie and a more recent one by Rod Stewart. Lulu’s version actually came out before Them’s, but tanked, failing to make the top twenty – much to Them’s delight.

Lyrically it’s quite gloomy, a tale of lost love and seeing your girlfriend with someone new and wondering what is wrong with you and why you can’t accept the situation: Morrison’s voice and character are perfect for it.

Another success for Berns was Tell Him, a hit in the US for The Exciters (as Tell Her – it works either way) and in the UK for Billie Davis, sometime girlfriend of Shadows bass player Jet Harris.

Other early 60s hits included Cry Baby and Piece Of My Heart, both revamped later in the decade by Janis Joplin.

Berns also had a successful career as a record producer, working with people such as The Drifters.

His damaged heart duly packed up in 1967 when he was just 38, and that was the end of Bert Berns. Such was his knack for creating a hit song out of very little, he could have extended his career and reputation for many more years. Think what might have happened if he had still been around in the punk era. Three chords and a catchy chorus – there was no one better.

 

 

The Songwriters – Burt Bacharach and Hal David

Burt Bacharach (left) and Hal David

We’ve looked at such behemoths of songwriting as Lennon/McCartney, Leiber and Stoller and Holland/Dozier/Holand, but there is another partnership that served up an incredible menu of pop songs during that golden era that was the 1960s: Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

While to the world at large it is Bacharach’s name that is most important, where would his fabulous tunes be without the emotional, evocative and superbly crafted lyrics of David? Even the titles do part of the job sometimes: You’ll Never Get To Heaven (if you break my heart), for instance. Anyone who thinks that heralds a soppy song can leave right now. Haven’t you ever been in love?

Bacharach and David’s songs are perhaps old-fashioned in a way, reliant on orchestration and sweetness from an earlier era, but they filled my youth with beauty and love just as much as The Beach Boys and the Lovin’ Spoonful.

At first glance the B&D canon seems to start with Dionne Warwick, but there was life before that, so let’s look at that period first. The Story Of My Life was a hit for country legend Don Williams before being covered by the rest of the world. In the UK it was Michael Holliday, a smoothly-dressed crooner perching on a stool, and who was displaced at the top of the charts by the man he was influenced by, Perry Como, with another Bacharach and David song, Magic Moments.

For someone like me, a child of the 50s who only really started to pay attention with the advent of The Beatles, these songs are of my parents’ generation, but even so, you can’t help but notice how good they were: catchy as hell even if you would prefer to be untouched by them.

Then, unbeknown to us in the UK, an American singer, Jerry Butler, heard Make It Easy On Yourself and asked Bacharach to  help him record it. The Walker Brothers took it up the British charts in their wall-of-sound style.

Bacharach in turn discovered the aspiring star Dionne Warwick singing whatever anyone would let her – backup, demos etc. – and recognized her as a vehicle for his music. It was a marriage made in heaven, probably unique in the whole world of singer-composer relationships, and the hits flowed like honey from the comb. Don’t Make Me Over registered with the public but it was Walk On By, with that desolate David lyric brought to heartbreaking life by Warwick, that planted the towering tree in popular music.

Warwick got first crack at the material but others tiptoed around the dinner table looking for scraps, and grabbed them eagerly, often taking the arrangements lock, stock and barrel. Thus Cilla Black was launched on the tidal wave of Anyone Who Had A Heart and Sandie Shaw suggested a more substantial vocal talent than perhaps was really there through (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.

Then there was Alfie, written as the theme of the film starring Michael Caine, and existing in versions by both Warwick and Black, but appearing on the UK release of the film by Cher. The Cilla Black recording session at Abbey Road studios with George Martin producing has attained legendary status, and the question is: why wasn’t her version used, when Bacharach had flown to London to supervise the session?

Reading between the lines, I can’t help thinking he wasn’t entirely convinced. Cilla had two voices: the breathy, vulnerable one that starts the song and the strident, nasal one she drifted into when she got worked up. Maybe Bacharach didn’t like that one but didn’t know how to tell her. Whatever the reason, there was always another girl waiting to record Bacharach and David songs, and Cher was hot property at the time.

The list of hits grew as if by magic, effortlessly, with Trains And Boats And Planes, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again and the aforementioned You’ll Never Get To Heaven, plus the latin-flavoured Do You Know The Way To San Jose, and that’s just the singles. Dionne Warwick albums were like fruit stalls laden with superb produce: Are You There With Another Girl and Window Wishing would have been the pinnacle of most writers’ careers.

Meanwhile, there was Tom Jones with What’s New Pussycat and Manfred Mann with My Little Red Book, which was also recorded by superhip L.A cats, Love.

British soul/pop icon Dusty Springfield got to sing The Look of Love and a 1968 musical yielded the title song Promises Promises.

Incidentally, most Warwick compilations will include Valley Of The Dolls, from the film of Jacqueline Susann’s novel of that name, and I only discovered the fact while researching this post, but that was written by Andre and Dory Previn. Worthy of Bacharach and David, perhaps, but  someone else’s work, and released as the B side of I Say A Little Prayer.

As the 60s drew to a close the Bacharach and David catalogue registered another gem: Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, recorded by B. J. Thomas for the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, for which Bacharach wrote the soundtrack.

Then The Carpenters, slipping slickly onto the scene as the 70s began, found the ideal introducer in Close To You.

Like many of the great partnerships, Bacharach and David’s was not without its tensions, and the golden age came to an end, with Bacharach collaborating with other lyricists including Carole Bayer Sager (they were married for several years) and Christopher Cross.

Hal David became involved in the administration side of songwriting, but his name will always be inextricably linked with that of Burt Bacharach, peerless tunesmith to his sublimely-skilled lyricist.

 

 

The Songwriters – Graham Lyle

Graham Lyle (left) with Benny Gallagher

No, I’m no forgetting Benny Gallagher, his long-time partner from the early days, but Graham Lyle’s career extended beyond the Gallagher and Lyle brand and into heady chart territory in the US.

But first, the first bit. He’s Scottish, Graham Lyle. Part of a general group of musicians and singers who, it seemed almost reluctantly, insinuated themselves into the British music scene in the 60s and 70s – Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly et al. Gallagher and Lyle had gone the usual route of local bands before getting down to London in the mid-late Sixties, being spotted by The Beatles’ Apple Corps and doing some writing for Mary Hopkin.

Then they found themselves part of McGuinness Flint, named after bass player Tom McGuinness (Manfred Mann) and drummer Hughie Flint (John Mayall). The Scots songsmiths provided the hit singles When I’m Dead and Gone and Malt And Barley Blues.

In the mid Seventies Gallagher and Lyle went duo and sold plenty of copies of I Wanna Stay With You and Heart On My Sleeve. They were mining a seam on the very border where rock and folk met middle of the road, so leftover neo-hippies (such as myself) found their stuff acceptably cool while Radio Two and your Mum thought they were quite pleasant too.

The album that contained those hits was Breakaway, the title track of which became a hit for Art Garfunkel, while Bryan Ferry enjoyed success with Heart On My Sleeve.

Just as the world seemed to be opening up for the duo as writers, while Lyle embraced the US music scene, Gallagher faded from the scene and was missing in action during the 80s, before reemerging with The Manfreds in the 90s. When his tenure with them came to an end he became a fixture on the Scottish  folk club circuit as a singer-songwriter, and there he has remained, also playing at festivals, teaching songwriting and being instrumental in a charitable organization aimed at helping songwriters to gain their due share of royalties.

Lyle, though, took a very different path. Often writing with fellow Brit Terry Britten, he became one of the most sought-after writers in the US. What’s Love Got To Do With It was a major factor in Tina Turner’s 80s rebirth, and he also co-wrote I Don’t Wanna Lose You and We Don’t Need Another Hero for her. He had a song on a Michael Jackson album and has been recorded by Ray Charles (Rock’n’roll Shoes), Diana Ross (Change of Heart), Etta James (Hold Me Just A Little Longer Tonight), Patti Labelle, Anita Baker and Joe Cocker. It’s not all hit singles and famous songs, but ask a vintage musician in L.A. who Graham Lyle is and chances are they will know.

And that is success. Hits are the icing on the cake.

Country music number ones also appear on his CV, with Don Williams, The Judds and Crystal Gayle among the beneficiaries, and in the UK he found late success with Conner Reeves (My Father’s Son and Earthbound, both 1997).

In recent years Lyle has teamed up again with Gallagher, revisiting the material that shaped both of their lives.

The Songwriters – Albert Hammond

Here’s a man who has been making  a very good living writing songs for  decades without quite becoming a household name.

Albert Hammond has several claims to fame: he’s the guy who, in the early 1970s, did It Never Rains In Southern California and Free Electric Band, both hits in his own name. Fast forward 30 years and he had a rock star son: Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes.

But what of the rest of the life of Albert Hammond Sr? Well, let’s start with The Air That I Breathe, an anthemic hit for The Hollies in 1974, and since covered by a  host of acts from Cilla Black to Judy Collins and Julio Iglesias to Simply Red.

But none of these songs represented the start for Hammond. In 1967 there was a cutesy (i.e. irritating) song by Leapy Lee called Little Arrows, while Irish middle-of-the-road singer Joe Dolan did well in 1969 with Make Me An Island.

This is the sort of opening salvo of a songwriter’s career that makes it quite clear he’s not going to sit around and wait for his mature classic to appear; he has a living to make and whatever catchy nonsense falls from his brain, he’s going to make some money from it if he can.

While the following are nothing to be ashamed of – and they sold in chart-making quantities in the UK – they’re unlikely to make  many people’s list of classics either: Freedom Come Freedom Go (Blue Mink), Gimme Dat Ding (The Pipkins) and Good Morning Freedom (The Fortunes).

As it happens, Hammond’s gift did mature. From his early days working with Mike Hazlewood (he always wrote with a partner) he went on to collaborate with Hal David, Carole Bayer Sager and Diane Warren, none of whom would have wanted to taint themselves with substandard material.

The songs that flowed from Albert Hammond after the initial period form part of the adult-oriented rock canon, from  Tina Turner’s I Don’t Want To Lose You to One Moment In Time, Whitney Houston’s version of which was used as the theme song for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul (I don’t know if they used Little Arrows during the archery events) .

Hal David provided the words for 1984’s To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before (Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson), while Diane Warren was on the scene by the time of Don’t Turn Around, originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler but a hit for Aswad in 1989 and Ace of Bass later on.

One rather strange credit for Albert Hammond is connected with Radiohead’s breakthrough hit Creep, which some people seemed to think bore enough of a similarity to The Air That I Breathe to warrant a threat of legal action. I must have listened to both songs a hundred times and it never occurred to me, but Radiohead conceded there was a strong similarity and Hammond settled out of court for a percentage of the royalties.

The mercenary nature of the music business was demonstrated again when  Starship, which had evolved from the ultra-hip 1960s counterculture beast that was Jefferson Airplane, made a bucketload of money out of Hammond and Warren’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.

Mission accomplished, then, for Albert Hammond, who has done what he was put on this earth to do – and good luck to him (and thanks for one or two nice ones along the way).

 

The Songwriters – Graham Gouldman

The firmament of 1960s British pop music wasn’t all Beatles and Motown; there were hundreds of singers and bands hoping for a crack at this wacky new world where they could be an unknown, selling nail varnish in Woolies’ or suits in Burtons one day and appearing on Ready Steady Go the next. It hadn’t yet become a case of writing your own stuff, not for most people, anyway, so there was a market for songwriters, and one who burst through was Graham Gouldman.

Later to become famous as one quarter of 10cc, Gouldman was a Jewish lad from Manchester who just happened to have tunes popping into his head, and he found himself ploughing two distinct furrows at the same time. While he was providing the sort of out-and-out pop that the chart-oriented acts needed, he was also having his sleeve pulled by The Yardbirds, an altogether more rootsy outfit, brought up on blues and soon to branch out into psychedelia, and boasting future legendary guitarists, not one but three, in their ranks.

That Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page should all pass through this British combo is little short of miraculous, but even so, the way of things at the time was that they needed hit singles. Gouldman gave them For Your Love, later covered by plenty of people, including a version by Fleetwood Mac in between the Peter Green and Lindsey Buckingham eras. He gave them Heart Full of Soul, which was edging towards that strange psychedelic sound, and Evil Hearted You, a tougher, darker thing that American alternative rockers The Pixies would, much later, sing in Spanish, for some reason.

Of the mainstream pop material he was generating, Gouldman assisted the Hollies’ soaring 60s trajectory with Look Through Any Window and Bus Stop, both evocative as well as tuneful, but the one that has always fascinated me is Herman’s Hermits’ No Milk Today, in which an empty milk bottle on a backstreet doorstep symbolises the singer’s lost love. Pretentious? Nah. It’s just a nice image:

But all that’s left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up two down

Another one with a bit of character, a bit of uniqueness, is Tallyman, a minor hit for Jeff Beck, which tells the story of a family paying for goods “on tick”, whereby the housewife is given the clothes or whatever by the salesman and is then visited once a week for repayments.

The early and mid 60s are famous for their gritty, kitchen-sink novels and films, and Tallyman and No Milk Today are cut from the same cloth: little slices of life that paint as much of a picture as going down the dancehall to check out the girls and the beat groups.

Once 10cc had got together in the 1970s, Gouldman started concentrating on his own song needs, and that’s what brought us  I’m Not In Love, sometimes voted as the greatest love song of all time. And there was the melodramatic, oddly gripping I’m Mandy Fly Me and the cheeky swipe at the Caribbean, Dreadlock Holiday.

If songs are handed out by God – or however you believe it happens – Graham Gouldman certainly received, and passed on, more than his fair share.

 

 

The Songwriters – Holland Dozier Holland

Lamont Dozier (left) Brian Holland and Eddie Holland

When you consider that we’ve looked at Motown writers from Stevie Wonder, Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson and Smokey Robinson to Norman Whitfield and Ashford and Simpson, the casual observer might think that pretty much sums it up. Shedloads of hits, after all.

But music lovers all around the world know there was a songwriting trio more profilic than all those others: Holland Dozier Holland.

The Holland Brothers, Eddie and Brian, teamed up with Lamont Dozier in 1962 and became almost synonymous with Motown, such was the volume and quality of songs they wrote and produced.

Unusually, one of their first efforts was arguably also the finest: Heat Wave, which took Martha and the Vandellas to the top of the US charts in 1963. This is a tune that could make a camel dance, and I’m just sorry I don’t know the technical term for the rhythm that propels it.

Although obviously it is the work of the masterly Motown house band, The Funk Brothers, it’s not something even they repeated. Let’s just say it’s like My Guy on amphetamines and Needle in a Haystack with more swagger. The Vandellas’ Third Finger Left Hand is  pretty close. It’s also close in brilliance.  I used to have a vinyl single of that with Jimmy Mack on the other side: both HDH songs, and what a pairing.

Although most of the time the Motown writers found their work snapped up by more than one of the label’s acts, HDH did a lot of work with The Supremes and The Isley Brothers. Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love and Stop In The Name Of Love paid huge dividends for Diana, Flo and Mary, while This Old Heart of Mine – intended for The Supremes –  is an Isleys standard that has been covered many times, not least by Rod Stewart. And there’s I Guess I’ll Always Love You, again with that Heat Wave beat.

Martha Reeves makes no secret of the fact that HDH had very definite ideas about how their songs should be recorded, and that Eddie Holland, the lyricist of the trio, would tell the singers exactly how they should deliver the lines. Reeves speaks reverently of Levi Stubbs, lead singer of The Four Tops, but says Eddie Holland would even lay down the law to him.

Speaking of the Four Tops, HDH demonstrated a cheeky streak when, as the follow-up to I Can’t Help Myself, they came up with a tune that was so similar they called It The Same Old Song – and still managed to slip it under the radar of the vast majority of us. That was in addition to the solid gold trinity of Reach Out, Standing In The Shadows of Love and Bernadette.

Among the lower-profile acts on the label, HDH provided hits for The Elgins (Put Yourself In My Place – better known in the UK by The Isley Brothers – and Heaven Must Have Sent You) and a classic that somehow seems like the odd one out in the whole catalogue, Roadrunner by Junior Walker and the Allstars. The conspicuous white face  among the artists, R. Dean Taylor, was given a flying start (which didn’t lead to consistent success) with There’s A Ghost In My House.

During 1967, the “Summer of Love” which largely passed Motown by, HDH fell out with Berry Gordy  over money, and the following year they were gone. The dispute wasn’t resolved until 1977. In the meantime they set up Invictus Records and wrote under pseudonyms, because they were still bound by their Motown  publishing contract. Band of Gold by Freda Payne and Give Me Just A Little More Time (Chairmen of the Board) are the highlights of a surprisingly paltry post-Motown  output.

So it ended, if not in tears, then in disappointment for them and for us.

Their legacy of cover versions, though, includes James Taylor’s how Sweet It Is, Linda Ronstadt (Heat Wave), Phil Collins (You Can’t Hurry Love) and You Keep Me Hanging on, versions by the Vanilla Fudge and Kim Wilde.

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The Songwriters – The Bee Gees

The hat, Maurice, the hat! I know you’re going bald, but even so…

This is another of those catalogues of covers that is so long it could turn into a 600-word list, so what follows is a very selective look at what’s around.

As for who wrote what, the Bee Gees’ songs were often credited to all three brothers, and although we know it was mainly Barry and Robin, actually picking one apart from the other is almost impossible at times. In general it is probably safe to say no more than that if the vocal sounds  slightly reedy and Robiny, he probably came up with the germ of the idea, and if it’s smoother and Barryish, then it was his.

Starting a little ahead of the beginning  we have Al Green’s version of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart. It was slow the way the Bee Gees recorded it in 1970/71, but Green and his producer  Willie Mitchell slowed it down even further and relied on their masterly arrangement and sparse but settled instrumentation, on top of that unsurpassable voice, to create something too slow to dance to, too slow to make love to, but something to savour, like Kahlua drizzled over chocolate ice cream and served without a spoon.

That early Bee Gees stunner, New York Mining Disaster 1941, has been attempted by a few people, with a notable effort by folk legend Martin Carthy that should suit it but, to me, doesn’t. It has some of the hallmarks of a folk song, after all, but folk is all about stripping away pretence, and maybe there’s a touch of bitter-sweet artifice in the original’s harmonies that needs to be there for it to work.

Words is a more forgiving candidate, and the versions have flowed freely down the years, from Rita Coolidge to Boyzone.

First of May has been tackled by, among many, Sarah Brightman (whose most memorable contribution  was to pronounce the t in Christmas), as well as Matt Monro , Cilla Black, Lulu and Jose Feliciano.

Similarly, To Love Somebody is a nice tune with very singable lyrics, and has received treatments from Leonard Cohen (oddly cheerful), Michael Bolton (typically hysterical), Janis Joplin (what can I say, I don’t get her and never did). Michael Buble (what hasn’t he done a cover of?) and the live duo of Ray Lamontagne and Damien Rice (intense as you would expect).

Much later, after the first phase and then the disco chapter, the Bee Gees and in particular Barry Gibb began offering material to legends of the music business ,presumably because the brothers had had enough  of performing  and were prepared to let others do the hard work.

Thus came Heartbreaker for Dionne Warwick, whose well was rather dry by that time (1982).

Country colossi  Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were presented with a diamond-crusted, inscribed platinum song called Islands in the Stream, and Barbra Streisand got a whole album’s worth, of which Guilty and Promises are prominent.

But to finish this section I would like to go back to I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You. You might think there wouldn’t be too many takers for a song about a man on death row who has only one hour left to live, and in truth most people left it alone. But of the few that had a crack, a special commendation must go to veteran bluegrass merchant Bobby Osborne, who, with his crack team of instrumentalists (banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, fiddle), turn it into a thoroughly jolly occasion.

I urge you to have a listen to this, and if you think it’s just grossly inappropriate, I wouldn’t argue with you. On the other hand, there is something so infectiously good-time about this sort of thing – and you can’t not be impressed by the musicianship – that I find it impossible not to like it. They could make you feel good about your own execution.

As an interpretation of a song it’s as weird as they come, but as long as the Bee Gees didn’t take themselves too seriously I think they would have enjoyed this.